The COVID-19 pandemic has caused physicians, patients, and health-care networks across the globe to not only turn to, but fully embrace telemedicine—many for the first time. For Davis Liu ’89 and his colleagues at Lemonaid Health, the concept (and its broad use) is not new. It is not only a firmly established practice, but the basis of their business.
“Since 2015, Lemonaid has been focused on providing affordable high-quality, primary care services to patients in all 50 states and the District of Columbia using our technology platform,” says Liu, who consults with as many as 100 patients each day through Lemonaid’s smartphone app and website. “We routinely evaluate a wide range of conditions, from sinusitis, and bladder infections, to depression, anxiety, and thyroid function.”
It should not be surprising then, that Lemonaid is once again leading the innovation pack: In partnership with Scanwell Health, Lemonaid is offering the first at-home, rapid serology testing kit for the coronavirus.
“It was clear that Lemonaid’s national presence, integrated medical team, and technology platform would allow us to offer patients timely, evidence-based, reliable testing for exposure to the SARS-CoV2 virus on the same scale as that of our other medical services,” notes Liu.
The at-home test, which is currently pending government approval, can determine past infection or exposure to the coronavirus. Patients will be required to complete a health questionnaire on the Lemonaid website before a Lemonaid provider orders the test. Lemonaid will then ship the Scanwell test kits—which require only blood from a simple finger-prick—to patients. Lemonaid clinicians interpret the results and follow up with each patient. Liu expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to validate the test and grant Emergency Use Authorization in August.
“The technologies used are commonly used in medicine. The difference for a novel virus like SARS-CoV2 is determining what type of assays are needed to identify the virus,” Liu explains. “Scanwell worked with a vendor who developed this test for use in China. Use in the United States requires the validation and approval by the FDA via Emergency Use Authorization.”
Liu notes that Emergency Use Authorization is temporary, and owes its speed in part to limitations on some of the requirements of formal FDA approval. Once the emergency declaration is lifted, however, the full formal review process must to take place for the test to remain in use.
In the meantime, Lemonaid’s overall patient volume continues to rise, as in-person access to physicians is limited by quarantine, physician availability, and job (and therefore health insurance) loss.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is fundamentally changing how we think about public health, and how we think about access to medical care for all Americans,” says Liu. “One of my hopes is that there will be a greater acceptance of telemedicine by the medical community to complement the traditional doctor office visit. The care Lemonaid provides is affordable, convenient, and where patients want it when they need it. Obstacles, stressors, and barriers to accessing care—things like travel, time, and whether or not a patient has coverage—no longer apply, allowing patients to focus on just one thing: How do I get better?”
Davis Liu, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, patient advocate, physician leader, blogger, and the author of two books, including The Thrifty Patient–Vital Insider Tips for Saving Money and Staying Healthy. He’s passionate about making health care more convenient, personalized, and affordable. Prior to joining Lemonaid, Dr. Liu was a practicing primary-care doctor for 15 years at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, California. He also served on the Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) board of directors as vice-chair of the Finance and Audit committee and the Governance committee. Dr. Liu graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his medical degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.